Activity #2-Field Guide to Glacier Bay Seabirds

black oystercatcher


1. Taxonomy Discussion
Discuss the meaning of "taxonomy" with students. (Taxonomy is the science of naming organisms and assigning them to groups.)

  • What do they think a biological taxonomy classifies?
  • How many classifications do they think a system has that addresses all living organisms? Explain.
  • Why might such a classification system be useful to scientists?
  • How could it help to illuminate the planet's biodiversity of living things?

Answers: Answers will vary according to the students' experience and knowledge. In your discussion, point out that scientists have identified more than 2.5 million species of organisms on Earth and more are being found every day. The only way to study this incredible diversity is to divide it into small, manageable groups - the biological taxonomy. The taxonomy also allows scientists to assign a unique name to each of the millions of Earth species.


2. Seabird Orders
The birds or Aves is one of the largest classes of vertebrates in the world. Seabirds at Glacier Bay are roughly defined as birds commonly associated with the ocean environment. This includes seven of the Aves orders. They include:

Heavy-bodied; long-pointed bill; legs near back of body; palmate

foot propelled; diving birds; toes lobed; legs near back of body
Seabirds; tube-shaped bills; many can fly for long periods of time
Aquatic birds that eat fish or squid; only birds with totipalmate feet and a pouch on throat

Long-legged waders; usually with large bodies
Waterfowl; webbed toes; broad bill with filtering ridges at margins
Shorebirds, typically with long, slender, probing bills and long, stilt-like legs

3. Divide Class Into Groups by Orders
Divide the seven bird Orders among seven student groups. Groups will compare the Glacier Bay Bird Checklist to the Student Resource: The Sea and Water Birds of Glacier Bay in order to identify at least five specific birds from their assigned Order that are found in Glacier Bay.


4. Record Data on Each Bird
Groups will use Resources and the Student Handout: Bird Data to find and record the following data for each of the five birds.

  • Identification, including color
  • Wing size and shape
  • Beak size and shape
  • Range and habitat
  • Flight behavior
  • Breeding biology
  • Feeding style
  • Food/prey

5. Create Field Guide The groups will work together to use their information to create an illustrated field guide highlighting the area's seabirds.


Extension 1:
Invite students to use their research to create a natural history diorama of the seabirds of Glacier Bay. Bird models should be as close to the real thing as possible. The diorama could be set up on a large scale Glacier Bay satellite map.


Extension 2:
Have students choose one or two of the birds on the Glacier Bay Bird Checklist that cannot be found in the park year round. Discover where else the bird can be found and the routes and stopovers it takes in its travels. Next, have them discover all they can about the regulations, if any, that protect the habitats these birds need outside Glacier Bay. Finally, have students create a short presentation in which, using a map of the world, they share their data. Also, have them and speculate on the continued survival of the birds they researched, based on the status of the locations in which they are found.


Activity #3 >>
Migrants in Glacier Bay

Last updated: September 29, 2017

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